Pain. Deep, harrowing pain. Triggers. Intrusive Flashbacks. Visceral fear. Hypervigilence. Pathological dissociation. Insomnia. Tactile sensations of defilement. These are but just few of the many symptoms of trauma that manifest in a rape survivor. The Indian woman’s position is especially appalling, as they have to wade through various societal stressors and then try to emerge unscathed. The scaffold of social determinants such as patriarchal hypocrisy, male privilege and the powerful undertow of misogyny only serve in exacerbating the situation.
Maharashtra, September 1979: Numerous feminist movements/uprisings sprouted across India all of which advocated the creation of egalitarian jurisprudence and social policy. The reason? The unanimous acquittal of the accused (in the Mathura rape case), by the apex judiciary as they apparently found no locus standi (no legal standing). In 1972, custodial rape was inflicted upon a dalit minor girl (belonging to the indigenous community) named Mathura. The ruling actually went by largely unnoticed, except for initial protests by some fringe elements. A scathing open letter written to the Supreme Court by four (law) professors highlighting the inept and prejudiced judgement, shed light on the culture of impunity-lack of culpability existing in India and brought upon amendments and the subsequent legislative upheaval of Section 376, I.P.C.
The (1979) Supreme Court verdict can be split into a tripartite classification.
One: It was noted that Mathura did not vocally express her non-consent during the ordeal.
Two: The lack of bruising on her body was noted.
Three: She was adjudged as ‘habituated to sexual intercourse’ (based on the dubious and extremely non-innocuous two-finger test aka TFT).
This together with the absence of lacerations (physical evidence of struggle), was used to pronounce insinuations that painted her as a loose woman lacking credibility (and wanting to falsely implicate the defendants).
Under the TFT, forensic personnel’s test the vaginal laxity of the assaulted – absence of the hymen (i.e. obstruction to the two fingers passing through the labia), points to the female being sexually active. It is to be noted that strenuous activity of any form (aside from sex) can cause hymeneal tear and variations in size of the hymeneal orifice are commonplace. The TFT has rightly been declared to have no scientific basis and has been also recently been legally disapproved.
Why? Because it is in congruence to that line of thought that views the topic of women’s virginity (rather lack thereof), as blasphemous. Women who have a reign over their sexuality are deemed not-trustworthy. But the TFT is still in practice in India and no, not covertly according to a study by Human Rights Watch. The study also surmises that, the invasive nature of the TFT procedure, proves to be a major disincentive for the reportage of rape cases. For no fault of hers, Mathura was then placed in a vortex of malevolent patriarchy, she was vilified and pejorative terms were thrown at her –this must have left an indelible mark on her very being. She had to traverse through a classic case of victim-blaming. The reverence that was given to Mathura’s sexual history during legal proceedings mirrored the society’s regressive sensibilities.
Fast-forward to Delhi, December 2012: Fatal denigrating rape-sexual assault on a 23-year-old woman in South Delhi by six perpetrators (which included one juvenile). The abuse was beyond the bygone concept of penial-vaginal penetration or sexual gratification the intent was to purely wield power through violence. Again, the nation witnessed nationwide protests which were in part fueled by the widespread media glare that this particular case received.
Jyoti Singh Pandey (the assaulted) had various names foisted on to her –Damini, Nirbhaya, Amanat-all seeking to escalate her to a higher realm than what she belonged to. Should this be construed as perhaps an effort to subconsciously showcase the incident as alienated or one-off? The commonality of the woman was what made the incident gain the right kind of interest. It was this that lead to avoidance of public ennui (directed towards the case) due to protracted political disarray, thereby forcing any non-occurrence of legal abdication. That the non-disclosure of the name of the assaulted is mandated by the Indian law ( w.r.t. Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860) reiterates the fact that the skewed stratification in our society extends up till and has permeated into the legislature also.
For instance, the ordinance promulgated in 2013, had provisions that received disparaging comments from almost all quarters that espouses the rights of women. One suggestion was to have a blanket of gender neutrality imposed on the label of the perpetrator of sexual harassment-assault-rape. This would completely subvert and ignore the fact that – rape is plainly put, an act which seeks to highlight fanatical male power and supremacy. And, the idea of (Indian) women as perpetrators would tend to spread fallacious ideas that lack in context, fact and evidence. Gender neutrality with relation to victims is an absolute necessity-this will in fact help to bring forth the many subdued sexual crimes instigated against the queer community. It is more than ever important now due to the constitutional validity of the archaic section 377 (which imposes a prohibition enmasse on any and all penile-non vaginal sexual acts) that has the potential for exploitation.
The compulsive need to maintain a veneer of respect reveals the judgmental shadows lurking behind: Jyoti had her own inimitable identity – one that could (among other things), posthumously enrage hoards of people into expressing dissent. The gender inequality that is instilled in our ruptured social fabric has not even left the legislature out of its lurch: as a result of which the Indian woman is caught in an invidious position.
It has been 33 years since the Mathura judgment. India is still to show its disavowal from the regressive mentalities it possesse(s)d. Changes if any, have been sparse and fragmented.
We are still living in a country that revels in making the sexually assaulted stand trial than the accused.
Until 2006, in India, the testimony of the sexually assaulted was, required to be legally disregarded if there was absence of corroboration. This meant that not only did the allegation of rape entailed deliverance of proof (medically) by the prosecutrix, any minor contradictions or discrepancies while relaying the statement could effectively lead to the case being dismissed. Issues to do with the legal recourse aside, India is in desperate need of an attitudinal shift. While the proliferation of rape incidents needs to be checked, also what is required is a commitment to provide rape survivors (irrespective of their gender and sexual orientation) dignity, integrity and respect. Rape does not obliterate the existence of the person. Sanctity, purity, honour- are terms that ought not to be connected with rape. The existing rape culture has to make a turnaround also because there is necessity to unbound men from the shackles of patriarchy and misogyny that they are bound to.
Women must not be raped, sexually assaulted (or mistreated in any other way). Not because they might be someone’s mother, sister, wife or daughter. Just because, they are someone. A person.
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